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Local Abstract on Black label expands beyond Pittsburgh

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Local avant-garde label Abstract on Black is branching out into the international free-improv scene with its second release, by Chicago trio The Friction Brothers. While the name might not be familiar, the players certainly are, at least to anyone following indie rock or avant-jazz: saxophonist Michael Colligan (formerly of the Flying Luttenbachers), percussionist Michael Zerang (who played with Ken Vandermark and is touring with Bonnie Prince Billy), and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (of the Vandermark 5).

The CD, however, is nothing you'd expect from the above instrumentation, and that's because the actual implement list is much more extensive. Colligan plays "dry ice with tea kettles," "table spoons" and "espresso maker filter," among other things; Lonberg-Holm rubs every household item he can find on his strings; and Zerang goes to town on everything from sandpaper to the inside of a piano. "It's not melodic at all," says Dave Bernabo, who curates Abstract on Black. "It's actually pretty harsh-sounding, using things they picked up around the house."

"I asked Fred if he had anything he wanted to release," Bernabo says of the label's expansion strategy. "I figured we could do a solo record for him." But what he got was The Friction Brothers, recorded live at a performance space called Elastic. "We went for that, and had a release at [Chicago club] The Hideout in April. The Chicago Reader did a really nice piece on it, and we're hoping for something in The Wire. I've sent it to about 20 places so far."

The label plans two more releases in the near future: a duo CD by Philly saxophonist Jack Wright and French émigré guitarist Alban Bailly called The Harmony of Contradiction, and an electroacoustic composition by Baltimore's John Berndt, well known for his work with that city's High Zero Festival and Red Room performance space.

A Pittsburgh label striving for recognition in the wide world is admirable, but what about a local connection? To that end, Fred Lonberg-Holm will perform solo at 8 p.m. Sat., June 14, at Downtown's Wood Street Gallery ($8/$5 students), a venue which has been gaining traction for hosting installments of Eden McNutt's adventurous Radical Riffs concert series.

"He'll play a solo set, then a quartet set with me on guitar, Eden, and [bassist] Tracy Mortimore. [Fred] is one of the few cellists that can use pedals well, so it's kind of like rock cello, but it'll be noisier and improvised, somewhat like his solos in the Vandermark 5," says Bernabo. "He's really at a virtuoso level."

Sure, but just watch out for your fingers when he pulls out the cheese slicer.

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